|This cover is much more commercial than the earlier one. This cover has breasts.|
When Marcus's mother, a long time champion of the common people, passes away, Marcus's rebellious spirit prompts him into taking up her cause. But the years have eroded the capabilities of the once-powerful Elesian monarchy, and a frustrated Marcus feels more like a figurehead than anything. To make matters worse, his mother hinted on her deathbed about a conspiracy among Elesia's nobles, and Marcus's father, the king, is more interested in his courtesan lover than his son's concerns for the future of their country. When the rouge province of Kydona rises in rebellion, Marcus yearns to join the other noble boys marching to battle--but when he gets his wish, it's in the last form he could have expected.
The worldbuilding is enticing, from an interesting duo of gods to Krug's lavish description of the court in all its finery. While more sexualized than your average European court, the lines of conflict in the court are easy to see. From the struggles between the elite and the poor, the conquerors and the conquered, and men and women, Elesia is solidly grounded and constructed.
Many characters in epic fantasy run the risk of appearing two dimensional, but Marcus and his friends are quite well fleshed out. Marcus's desire to help the common people is more influenced by his love for his mother (and dislike of his father), and his rebellious urges, than true altruism. He enters a relationship with a low ranking girl despite knowing he'll never be able to marry her. His impulsive actions get him in trouble more often than they help him, and his desires to improve his country constantly wrestle with his sense of hopelessness.
His father, King Aubric, is little more than a glorified general for his nobles, and constantly struggles to project his dominance over the one area he has some control--his family. Roslene, his scheming courtesan lover, skillfully pulls the strings of his court, and the reader can't help but wonder who's side she's truly on. Vernon, Marcus's best friend, is little more than a party-loving pretty boy, but he displays an unwavering loyalty to his friends. Watching these constantly evolving characters interact is one of the best parts of this novel.
However, the pacing can be slow in places. Hints are dropped at the dark secrets surrounding Elesia's court--missing regiments, gypsy prophecies, a foreign princess once thought dead--but none of these mysteries have been successfully addressed by the book's end, which lacks a suitable climax. The story would be much improved if there had been some final battle at the end, which lead to Marcus discovering the truth, or at least more information, about one of these strange things--something that will give him a goal to accomplish in the sequel. As it was, I felt like the book was more of a set up for a sequel than an entry of its own--but the sequel is eagerly awaited.
My rating? For epic fantasy, four and a half stars. For a novel, three and a half.
You can purchase Kydona here. You can also go here and purchase my book, Iceclaw.